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What Makes a Great ASL Interpreter

Updated: Feb 26, 2022

People are recognizing the importance of inclusivity, which is why there is a greater demand for American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment of interpreters is expected to increase by 24 percent within the decade. This growth is faster than the average for all occupations, since ASL interpreters play a big role in improving the accessibility of services. However, being an ASL interpreter is no ordinary job. Before you step into this role, you need to exhibit the following skills so that you can help make a significant change in society.

Demonstrate Accurate Interpretation Skills

Accuracy is a factor that sets novice ASL interpreters from professional interpreters. Since ASL interpreters work in a wide variety of settings, you need to ensure that you can get different messages across without getting anything lost in translation. To make accurate ASL interpretations, you’ll have to be proficient in comprehending messages from people with or without disabilities. You also have to be prepared to communicate medical, educational, political, artistic, legal, and other types of jargon without confusing individuals with hearing challenges.

Have Professional Interpretation Experience

Your accuracy in interpretation is a skill that you develop through professional experience. Practice indeed makes perfect, since your professional experience will serve as a learning experience when it comes to interpreting different types of messages. While general ASL skills are a foundational competency that all interpreters must have, your experience in educational, medical, legal, or corporate settings will help make these areas more inclusive to people with disabilities. Through your professional experience, you can develop your confidence in interpreting more complex messages.

Be as Empathetic as a Social Worker and Therapist

Bring your skills from other professions into your position. Were you an artistic performer, social worker, teacher or therapist? These skills can help to make you a great ASL interpreter. Since social workers are taught to be advocates for the underrepresented, they continuously fight for the rights of individuals with different abilities and backgrounds. Similarly, you can show your passion for the deaf community by leveraging social work competencies, like social justice and emotional literacy, as you communicate with people. Aside from fighting for inclusivity through social work, you also have to emulate therapists who support and guide others. People with disabilities face numerous challenges, so your compassion and problem-solving skills can make ASL communication transformative for them.

Communicate Through Whole Body Language

After mastering your hard and soft skills as an ASL interpreter, you must work on your interpretation techniques. In fact, one of our articles entitled How to be Inclusive recommends that you show your messages and intentions through your actions. Body language is a critical communication signal in ASL, so you need to be conscious with your actions to get the right message across. In addition, recognizing body language’s role in ASL, you also have to be observant and attentive to the actions and cues of others so that you can properly convey the tone of their message. By paying attention to the speaker's body language, you can avoid any misinterpretation of their intention.

Show Emotional Facial Expressions

In line with body language, a study has emphasized that there is a strong relationship between the facial expressions of ASL users and the signs that they are communicating. As such, it is recommended that interpreters use their facial features as an added input for communication. Great interpreters use emotive facial expressions as well as their whole body to demonstrate ASL. Knowing that facial expressions are a crucial part of ASL, professionals must recognize and utilize facial expressions in interpretations. This provides greater accuracy in each conversation and interpretation.

Many individuals rely on ASL interpreters, which is why it's important to give your best to this job. By working on your skills and professional experience, you can become an agent of change in the lives of people with disabilities.

Jaeya Vernice is a personal and career development blogger that believes that professionals can find meaning by pursuing career paths that contribute towards greater change. Guided by this principle, she is striving to inspire others to be successful and compassionate in their work. Jaeya spends her spare time volunteering in her local community.

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